September 19, 2017
The Best View of Peyto Lake | Banff National Park

The Best View of Peyto Lake | Banff National Park

September 19, 2017

There's no shortage of beautiful blue lakes in Banff National Park, but the bluest of them all would have to be Peyto Lake. After a morning chasing waterfalls and searching for hidden caves in Johnston Canyon, we drove an hour north of Banff (approximately 100 kilometers) to Peyto Lake. Glacial rock flour is to blame for Peyto Lake's bright turquoise color and because of its unique shade of blue, Peyto Lake is a popular stop for tourists and photographers alike. 

Because Peyto Lake is located in the northern part of Banff National Park (about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise), it is not as crowded as some of the southern lakes like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake but still expect a nice crowd. We arrived at Peyto Lake around 1:00 PM and we found roadside parking fairly easily. We weren't sure how far we parked from the trail head but as it turns out, we were only about 5-6 cars back from the main parking lot. I was surprised that we found such easy and close parking. My thinking was that most of the early bird hikers were gone for the day and we would have the lake to ourselves but once we got to the wooden observation deck, I was proven wrong. Where did all these people park? I could see glimpses of the blue lake in between people's heads, but taking a picture of it would have been impossible.

Before our trip I read that if you go past the observation deck, you can get a even better view of Peyto Lake minus the hoards of people so that is what we did. We didn't even try to step foot on the deck and took off on the trail.          


After following the trail towards Bow Summit, we found THE spot. There were a handful of other hikers already there and a few behind us, but there was plenty of room for everyone. The view was absolutely breathtaking and we didn't have to fight people to get the perfect shot. Plus I think all the rock formations and evergreens add to the landscape and that is something you can't really get down on the deck below. We spent a good amount of time there just admiring the scenery. After hiking in a canyon in the morning and now seeing this beautiful lake, Banff National Park is truly special.         

THE RUNDOWN:

Once past the wooden observation deck, follow the trail until you see the sign below (last picture). At this fork in the road, go right until you see a tall skinny sign that says "Bow Summit" on it and with the same coloration as the previous sign. The tall skinny sign is off to the right hand side so be on the lookout for it, it can be hard to spot if you're not looking for it. At this sign, follow the narrow trail until you get to the lookout, you can't miss it. The same trail will lead you all the way to Bow Summit if you want to keep going after the Peyto Lake lookout. To get back, just backtrack your way back to the observation deck. My only warning, just mind the edge since there are no guardrails. A couple playing with their dog accidentally threw his ball over the edge. Don't worry, the dog didn't go after it but he was bummed that they lost his ball though.     

Heading to Banff National Park? Definitely make the drive all the way to Peyto Lake, you won't regret it!     


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September 14, 2017
Hiking Johnston Canyon | Banff National Park

Hiking Johnston Canyon | Banff National Park

September 14, 2017

One of my favorite hikes at Banff National Park is, hands down, Johnston Canyon. Banff National Park is full of snowcapped mountains and of course their famous beautiful blue lakes, but underneath the tall peaks and away from the crowded lakes, you can find a canyon full of waterfalls, tunnels, pools and hidden caves.

Johnston Canyon's parking lot is only 25 minutes away from Banff making it one of the closest hikes to town. Like my advice for almost anything and everything, make sure to get there early! We arrived around 8:00 in the morning and made it into the main parking lot easily. There were only a handful of other hikers and families hiking when we arrived so it was nice to have some space while hiking the narrow walkways. If you're not a morning person and decide to hit the trail around midday, be prepared to hike in a single file line behind heaps of people. The good news is that the crowd does thin out some after the first waterfall (but is still pretty crowded).

One of the coolest part about hiking Johnston Canyon is the fact that you are right in the canyon. They constructed walkways with safety rails and bridges that are attached to the sheer canyon walls and if you are afraid of heights like I am, it can be nerve-racking during some portions of the trail. I definitely made use of the safety rails and didn't look down during the sketchy parts (even when I felt one of the cement planks move and my heart skipped a beat).

As you hike, you can hear the sound of the creek below you which just adds to the long list of what makes this place so great. I would also love to hike this trail in the winter and see everything frozen and covered in snow. I've read that in the winter time, people go ice climbing in the canyon and it's a cool sight to see.  


Johnston Canyon's hike consists of Lower Falls and Upper Falls and if you're feeling froggy, you can hike all the way to the Ink Pots.

Lower Falls is half a mile from the trailhead and Upper Falls is a mile after that. In between Lower and Upper Falls, you can find the not so secret hidden cave. If you have time, definitely take the detour to see the cave. Trust me, it will be worth it. If you have a lot of time, check out the Ink Pots. These cool springs are about another mile and a half past Upper Falls. We didn't have enough time to get all the way to the Ink Pots (cause a. we got a little lost looking for the cave, and b. we wanted to see Peyto Lake in the afternoon), but I would love to see them the next time we are up in Banff. I will have to say that the hike back to the parking lot was a little bit more "camera friendly" than it was in the morning. Since you're hiking in a canyon, direct sunlight doesn't really make an appearance until midday. But either way, I seriously took so many pictures during this hike.

THE RUNDOWN:

Johnston Canyon Hike
Highway 1A
Banff, Alberta
T1L 1A9

The parking situation at Johnston Canyon is a lot better than some places (like Moraine Lake) but definitely still come early. By late morning and the afternoon, the trail gets super crowded and it gets hard to walk on the narrow walkways especially since the route is "out and back". Bring bug spray! Mosquitos love the moist dark environment of the canyon and we definitely saw some big boys out there. If you're hiking all the way to the Ink Pots, take plenty of water with you (and some food). It's a much longer hike and according to a lot of people, it's a great picnic spot.       


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September 10, 2017
Exploring Johnston Canyon's Hidden Cave | Banff National Park

Exploring Johnston Canyon's Hidden Cave | Banff National Park

September 10, 2017

When we booked our trip to Banff National Park, I really didn't know much about the park except for its beautiful blue lakes (which was enough to make me want to visit). After telling a few friends and coworkers about the trip, recommendations came pouring in but one of them was not like the others. Johnston Canyon was the only one that didn't involve a lake. Don't get me wrong, I loved every second of all the lakes we visited and hiked, like Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake, but the idea of hiking in a canyon sounded so cool and different to me. And just like that Johnston Canyon was added to our itinerary.

While doing research on Johnston Canyon (which I will blog about next week), I found this amazing picture on Instagram. A picture of a dark cave, looking out at a waterfall, which turns into a stream that wraps around a rock formation that looks like it's about to tip over at any moment. It's the picture above and below, and it shows the power of erosion. I knew I had to see this amazing cave for myself but every time I saw a picture of it, people didn't really give clearcut directions or any helpful descriptions on where to find it. So when the day came, I was a little nervous that there could be a chance that I would go home not being able to find this "secret" or "hidden" cave.

One blog post I read said the cave is located in between Lower Falls and Upper Falls which is kind of vague since it's a mile in between the two falls. Another post I read said to "take the trail right after Lower Falls and it will lead you to the cave". Well right after Lower Falls, I was on the lookout for this trail and I thought I found it but the trail we took lead us to above the tree line which was a nice treat, but it was hard to fathom how a cave could be so high so we turned around (thankfully). After already hiking for so long and then going in the wrong direction for another 30-40 minutes, I just said forget it and told Lyndon and Aiden that we should just head back to the main trail towards Upper Falls and if we run into the cave, great, but I didn't want to waste anymore time trying to look for it. If we had all day, then I wouldn't mind hiking all over Banff National Park to find it, but we wanted to drive north to Peyto Lake afterwards so we had somewhat of a timeline to follow. So we double backed and started walking towards Upper Falls. Aiden was pretty bummed cause he really wanted to see the cave, I think maybe more than me, but I made peace with my decision and knew I would be back someday.

As we hiked our way to Upper Falls, I could see and hear the creek through the trees below us. Unlike the hike to Lower Falls where you are in the canyon and directly above the creek, the trail to Upper Falls is more elevated and you're outside of the canyon walls surrounded by trees. Both portions of the hike are equally as scenic and offer something for all hikers. Just when I was getting a little excited about getting close to Upper Falls, I noticed a small trail leading down towards the creek. I told Lyndon and Aiden to stay back while I checked out the trail and to see if anything down there was picture worthy. About halfway down, I noticed something very familiar. I could not contain my excitement and yelled up to the boys to come down. After spending all that time and obviously going in the wrong direction, we finally found the cave!


We made our way down the makeshift steps and trail that formed after years and years of foot traffic. Be careful when going down, the trail is a lot steeper than it looks especially if you're not wearing hiking shoes. I was wearing my running shoes and the smooth dirt was pretty slippery. Once down by the water, the view is breathtaking. Honestly, after seeing countless amazing pictures of this cave, it's nothing like seeing it in person. I was in awe the entire time, and I could tell Lyndon and Aiden felt the same way. Even though we spent some time in the wrong direction, everything was worth it in the end. We spent a good amount of time down in the cave, either taking pictures or just walking around to the waterfall or along the creek.

There was no one down by the cave when we got there but shortly after we arrived, two guys made their way down with their cameras and tripods. It was just the five of us for a while until a girl and her cute dog came down. By the time, we were ready to leave a small crowd started making their way down. I think once people are already down by the cave, it is a lot easier to find. You can hear voices or see people entering or leaving the dirt trail. On the way up, there were so many people trying to get down that Lyndon decided to go a different way since the trail is pretty narrow. I followed him and since I'm a foot shorter than him, it was not the best idea. If I thought the original trail was steep, this new way up was straight El Capitan status! My short legs couldn't compete and places where he could take one big step, I had to get on my knees and grab on to random branches. I finally made it up with lots of help from Lyndon and by the time we got to the top, Aiden was already up there giving us a weird "why did you go that way" look. He waited for the crowd to pass and just went up the original trail which is what I should have done... note to self!

So if you're going to Banff National Park, you should definitely a. hike Johnston Canyon, and b. check out this (not so) hidden cave! Johnston Canyon alone is so cool but this cave is amazing!

HOW TO GET TO THE HIDDEN CAVE:

After enjoying your time at Lower Falls, follow the main trail towards Upper Falls. After about 10-15 minutes or so, keep an eye out for a dirt trail on your righthand side. If you get to an area where you can see the large triangular rock formation from above (the one that looks like it's about to tip over), you missed the trail and need to turn around. Below are pictures of the dirt trail from the main Johnston Canyon trail and from below in the cave, be on the look out for it. It's a pretty distinct dirt path but with all the trees around, it could be easy to miss. If you can hear or see people below, you're on the right track. In the winter time, it might be easier to see the creek and cave from above with trees having less leaves but a lot of these trees are evergreens so it might not make a difference. Be careful going up and down especially if you're not wearing hiking shoes or have trekking poles. The dirt is slippery and the trail is pretty steep in some areas. Give yourself at least two hours to make this hike and back (longer if you want to go all the way to Upper Falls afterwards).

Hopefully these directions will help you get to this amazing place. While you definitely have to keep your eyes peeled, once you see the trail, it will look so obvious. Most importantly, make sure to spend some time down in the cave and explore! From the cave to the waterfall to the stream making almost a u-turn, it's nature at its finest.


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